• The Marriage Plot, Vol 2

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in WBN News & Events     Comments 7 comments

    Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of our discussion of February’s Book Club selection, Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot. Find the first one here. The next post, on February 28, will cover the sections titled “And Sometimes They Were Very Sad” and “The Bachelorette’s Survival Kit.”

    If you’re not yet a book club member and would like to be, it’s not too late to jump on the bandwagon. Simply use the comments section below to express interest and join us on our next adventure, Elif Shafak’s The Bastard of Istanbul. Leah Kaminsky will lead this discussion, and the schedule goes as follows:

    Chapters 1 – 6, discussion posted on 3/13
    Chapters 7 – 12, discussion posted on 3/20
    Chapters 13 – 18, discussion posted on 3/27

    And now, Jenna Cooper’s thoughts on sections three and four of The Marriage Plot. In your comments, feel free to respond to the questions Jenna poses, or raise new talking points and questions to toss around. And don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of followup comments via e-mail” box below to stay engaged with the conversation. DD


    “A Brilliant Move” is an unorthodox chapter in the context of “marriage plot” novels. Normally we aren’t privy to the inner world of the “object of desire.” It’s like getting to see inside the mind of Mr. Darcy or Heathcliff, reading what makes the enigmatic Leonard tick. “A Brilliant Move” makes a departure from the previous two chapters, which were theory-heavy, yet lighthearted in comparison to “A Brilliant Move.” All three protagonists have challenges navigating the post-college world, but Leonard has the burden of doing so with a mental illness and no familial support.

    As I read this chapter, I felt engulfed by Leonard’s desperate fight against his own mind. “A Brilliant Move” made me think of the thoughts Mitchell had regarding Tolstoy. Leonard is the “man clutching the branch” (204) and his chapter used “metaphorical language to describe an ineffable, but real experience.” The writing “reached through the noise of life to grab [me] by the collar and speak only of the truest things” (203). How did you feel while reading “A Brilliant Move”? Did you feel that the chapter “spoke only of the truest things” or did the metaphors fall flat for you?

    The subversive stream of consciousness writing and extended metaphors Eugenides uses in “A Brilliant Move” impressed me with their originality and occasional startling rawness. “All alone in his splendid apartment, among the geniuses and would-be geniuses, at the end of the spiraling land” touched me for its poignant eloquence (270), and the description of how medication blunts emotional pain on page 282 is spot-on in describing that phenomenon. If you’ve ever taken medication that affects your emotional receptiveness (even antihistamines and pain killers can dull your feelings), you can probably remember that it feels like “squeezing a baggie full of water and feeling all the properties without getting wet.” Also, anyone else pretty disturbed that Leonard’s parents made him eat his own feces? Made me wonder what other repressed traumas Leonard harbors.

    On another note, the intimate glimpses into the lives of people outside the circles of the affluent and Ivy League educated in “A Brilliant Move” and “Asleep in the Lord” made this week’s read richer. Darlene’s story saddened me—there was a woman who did everything in her power to reclaim her life and she eventually relapsed. It’s a stark reminder that “mind over matter” isn’t easy. Growing up in America, you’re taught that you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it, but the mind can fail us despite our endeavors. In Calcutta, Mitchell witnesses the helplessness of the patients in Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying. The only hope presented to the patients is that their death will unite them with Christ. But how many patients were believers? For the non-believer, the Home for the Dying might have felt like its own little hell. I think Mitchell fled because he saw futility in what they were doing at the home. Despite his desire for self-abnegation, Mitchell embraced his Nietzschean side and abandoned the home for the “bright fallen world above” (321). What do you think Leonard and Mitchell learned or gained from their interactions with people whose situations are seemingly hopeless? How do you think their perspectives on their own lives alter?

    Finally, I was both amused and and happy for Mitchell when he reached epiphanies while stoned off his ass, roaming the streets of Calcutta. Mitchell finally lays it on the line with Madeleine and feels religious ecstaticism—the Jesus Prayer “had taken over and was saying itself in his heart” (327). All while he was on high on a bhang lassi. I thought that was pretty bold of Eugenides, particularly because it was such a believable climatic moment and I, as the reader, trusted that Mitchell reached some healthy conclusions. Humans have used drugs to create and enhance religious experiences for who knows how many years, but this was during the eighties. Nancy Reagan started her “Just Say No” campaign in 1982, the year the novel takes place, and the War on Drugs was gaining momentum. Ironic? Do you think this might have been tongue-in-cheek of Eugenides or perhaps an acceptance that altered states of consciousness can allow one to reach clear-sighted conclusions? Or both?


    In addition to writing for WriteByNight’s blog, Jenna Cooper writes for BE Mag and a blog called FemThreads. Aside from writing, Jenna served as an AmeriCorps Member from 2008-2010 and will start her M.S. in Information Studies in Fall 2012. She graduated in 2009 with a B.A. in English from the University of Texas

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    Justine Tal Goldberg

    The book really picked up for me in these two chapters. I’m loving it. Re: Leonard’s and Mitchell’s interactions with hopeless people, there’s an interesting dynamic at play. Leonard who has never expressed (to the reader, at least) a strong desire to help those in need demonstrates an effortless talent for it, steadying patients like Darlene without really trying: his presence is enough. Mitchell, on the other hand, travels to the other side of the world to attend to the less fortunate and discovers that he doesn’t have the stomach for it. Of course, help is defined differently in each… Read more »


    Re: Although Leonard is pretty focused on himself (as well he should be since he has a lot on his plate), he understands trauma and emotional instability. I think that going through hard times can cause people to interact more emphatically. Poor Mitchell, though! He wants so badly to be self-abnegating, but he just doesn’t have it in him. It takes all kinds of people to make a world. No shame in not martyring yourself. Re: Right? He tried so hard to reach epiphanies when sober that his heavy philosophizing congealed into holistic understanding when he was high. Being high… Read more »

    Leah Kaminsky

    This excerpt from a Terry Gross interview might shed some more light on Mitchell. The whole interview is available here. It was really interesting to hear before reading the book. http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=140949453 [In reference to Eugenides’ own days volunteering in India]: EUGENIDES: Well, I felt more dramatic being there. And I think part of my pull there was that it’s kind of the Super Bowl of altruism to go all the way to India and help with Mother Teresa, and that other people were coming from all over the world to volunteer, so that there was this sense of a mission.… Read more »

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    Interesting. If Mitchell’s ambivalent feelings are in fact reflective of Eugenides’s own, that’s very brave of him. It’s not easy to face those less-than-saintly pieces of yourself.

    […] Editor’s Note: This is the third and final installment of our discussion of February’s Book Club selection, Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot. Find the first one here and the second here. […]

    Jose Skinner

    Sorry, been out of it–family emergency. Brilliant Move and Asleep in the Lord both great chapters, I thought. I must say I enjoyed Asleep in the Lord better as a chapter than as a stand-alone short story in the New Yorker. Wish the New Yorker would make clear when a piece is a novel excerpt rather than a short story, b/c I read differently (and better, I think) when I know the genre.

    […] Editor’s Note: This is the third and final installment of our discussion of February’s Book Club selection, Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot. Find the first one here and the second here. […]

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